Cover crops are re-gaining popularity these days. That’s because they offer a new, old solution to the perennial problem of dealing with manure runoff.

The two biggest issues to overcome with manure applications are risk of runoff, especially with winter applications, and risk of manure reaching tile lines, explains Natalie Rector, Michigan State University extension nutrient management educator.

Cover crops provide a two-fold solution. First, their root system uptakes nutrients and stabilizes soil. These roots also create better absorption of manure into the soil versus a field of corn stubble after silage harvest. Secondly, the top growth reduces surface runoff.

You get a third gain in that the entire system puts organic matter back into your soil. Recent research at the USDA/Agricultural Research Service Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, shows a positive interaction of the manure nutrients hastening the breakdown of the cover crops in the spring and then releasing nitrogen back to the following corn crop at the peak of crop need, says Rector.

Read more on rye cover crops.